Author Archives: clairegebben

Historic Frankfurt

Early last Saturday, when in Frankfurt, Germany, my very kind host Mia asked me what I wanted to see. The Saturday market? The older, historic part of town? It had been a long week, and quite frankly, my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders. It was my last day there. I’d just spent three days and very long hours browsing the huge, international Frankfurt Book Fair. Foremost in my mind now was locating the airport in time for my departure flight the next morning. So I shrugged.

“Anything’s fine, whatever you think.”

Mia hesitated, then suggested we visit the Roemer Platz. She especially wanted to show me an old church she really loved. “Although it might not be open today — there might be a private Book Fair event or something,” she said. “But I really love Paulskirche. It’s historic, and I like the outside, but they renovated it inside in the 70s. Still, it’s worth seeing.”

st pauls tourists

As we approached the cathedral, its entrance was blocked by a busload of tourists. Still, something about the place felt oddly familiar. I stopped in my tracks.

“Wait, did you say Paulskirche? The Paulskirche where Germans held their first ever freely elected parliament?”

Before Mia could answer, I’d dashed across the street, backing up against a building until I could go no farther, tipping the camera sideways to capture the very tall steeple. Mia followed, grinning at my antics.

“You’ll be able to get a better picture of the whole church over there, across the park,” she said.

“Oh, but I want this angle! I think I have the same image on file at home, showing this very vantage point at the time of the 1848 Parliament.”

st pauls kirche 1848st pauls kirche

st pauls plaque

Oh my goodness, I was delighted to come to this place. I took photos of the outside of the church (it was closed, as Mia had predicted) and also of the historic plaque by the door that gave dates and an explanation of that historic year.

st pauls claire“Give me your camera,” Mia said, holding out her hand. I shook my head, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. “C’mon, be a tourist.” How could I say  no?

My whole trip was like this, serendipity, surprise, astonishment and joy.

Roman ruins, grape harvest, and the devil’s stone

Freinsheim may be a small rural town, but during my visit there’s been so much going on I have trouble keeping up.

Friday, Oct. 3 was German Unification Day (a celebration of the day East and West Germany re-united in 1989). It is a national holiday. My relatives all gathered in a terraced garden in the vineyard, in the shade around a massive stone table. Afterwards, we hiked to some Roman ruins — two of four sarcophagi discovered a few years ago in the fields, dating back to around 300 A.D.

Unification Day brunch in the wine garden on the Musikantenbuckel

Unification Day brunch in the wine garden on the Musikantenbuckel

a uni sacrophagi

Roman sarcophagi from 300-400 AD discovered in the hills outside Freinsheim

On Saturday, the Town Council Weinlese (grape harvest) took place — the grapes used to make the town wine. About 30 gathered in the vineyards to snip grapes and enjoy a wine-maker’s picnic.

a grape harvesting

A gorgeous day for a grape harvest.

a grape harvest truck

Talk about a big toy — future wine-makers of Freinsheim.

a grape harvest table

A table spread with schwarzbrot and blutwurst and liverwurst, cheeses and wine schorles. Prost!

 

Then, on Sunday, a hike and delicious Pfalzer meal in the hills behind Bad Duerkheim. The Pfalzer Wald is the largest forest in Germany.

The Teufelstein in the Haardt Mountains.

The Teufelstein in the Haardt Mountains.

James Fenimore Cooper hiked here and wrote about his visit, in The Heidenmauer, including the tale of the Teufelstein — Devil’s stone.

Heidenmauer in the Pfalzer Wald was built by the Celts around 500 BC

Heidenmauer in the Pfalzer Wald was built by the Celts around 500 BC

More about the Heidenmauer here.

a pfalzer wald neuer wein

Of course I drank Neuer Wein and ate Zwiebelkuchen!

Odd sights to a foreigner

St. Lubentiuskirche in the south of Limburg

St. Lubentiuskirche in the south of Limburg

odd sights spaghetti ice cream

Spaghetti Ice Cream with chocolate and nuts (it has whipped cream in the center)

odd sights locks on the gate

Inscribed locks on a gate by the Lahn — a custom of lovers

odd sights guinea pig farm

A guinea pig farm in Roedinghausen

odd sights cigarette machine

They smoke more often here — maybe it’s the cigarette machines.

The Nonnenstein and other tales

I’ve been thinking a lot today about my other German great-great grandfather Henry F. Hoppensack, born April 29, 1821. He wrote in his autobiography about his formative years growing up in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Clearly, he never forgot how hard he had to work on behalf of his father on the Estate Kilver.

roedinghausenn henry hoppensack

In an abrupt manner, not unlike Henry Hoppensack, I decided to go to Rödinghausen today. I had a few extra days and a five day Eurail pass, so why not? Why not go to the area of the Estate Kilver, try to track down a thing or two about Henry Hoppensack and his wife Ilsabein Hissenkamper?

Roedinghausen Lutheran ChurchFive hours and four train changes later, I disembarked in Rödinghausen, a quiet village tucked at the foot of the low-lying Wiehen Mountains. I checked into the Gasthof Nonnenstein and asked where I could find some clues about the history of the area.

roedinghausen pembervilleThe Inn owner directed me to this marker. Apparently, a good-sized passel of residents of Rödinghausen immigrated to Pemberville, Ohio in the 19th century. But not our Henry — he immigrated to Cleveland, where he ran a brickyard, and then a truck farm, and he and Ilsabein had about nine children.

Later, I couldn’t resist hiking up to the Nonnenstein. The forest was alluring, the beeches and pines full of bird song and green. The mountain rock shelves of the Wiehen date back about 165 million years, and not far from here in Duesseldorf lie bones of the Neanderthals. By comparison, Henry and Ilsabein’s histories seem like the blink of an eye.

nonnensteinWhen I arrived at the Nonnenstein, I admit to feeling a bit betrayed. This tower was built in 1897, and reminded me so much of the one at Volunteer Park, including its utter lack of purpose, the thought it had been my destination was a let down. The trees have grown up so there’s not even a view to speak of.

But who could feel betrayed after spending several hours in the calm, unbelievably quiet forest here?

roedinghausen forest

A big oops

Well, I’ve done it again. I make the oddest mistakes, sometimes, and this one had a ripple effect that still has me feeling abashed and off balance.

The story of my first two days in Freinsheim. Of course I want to see all the relatives as soon as I possibly can. At the first opportunity, Matthias and I sit down with the calendar. I have my notes ready — as we decide on the times and places, Matthias makes the calls. That very same afternoon, I write it in my notes: 3 p.m. coffee with his mother, Baerbel Weber. The next morning, Friday first thing, 10 a.m. visit with Tante Gretel and Onkel Otto. Lunch with Tante Inge, 12:30. Interview with the Die Rheinpfalz newspaper reporter (gulp!) 3:00 p.m. A lot of German conversation ahead, but I brace myself and figure we’ll get through it somehow.

plum cakeBut already, time is passing. Delighted that Baerbel will see me so soon, I make preparations to go. I arrive at Baerbel’s precisely at 3. We have a wonderful, two-hour visit, in German, with — wait for it — plum cake! How awesome, and delicious!

Friday morning, Matthias urges me to get going to visit Onkel Otto and Tante Gretel. He points out it is a half hour walk, and that I should take a bicycle. I agree, and leave a few minutes late. I bicycle fast, and am proud of myself for arriving right on the hour of 10 o’clock. Tante Gretel is walking down the steps to meet me as I lock up the bicycle. We go inside and have a delightful conversation.

otto and gretel

I am perfectly happy, but Tante Gretel seems nervous, she keeps glancing at the clock on the bureau behind her. I think maybe she is getting tired or has something she must do like take her medicines, so I say my farewells. I am worried about arriving at Tante Inge’s too early, so I sit in a park and do a bit of journaling. As 12:30 rolls around, I get on my bicycle and head over to Tante Inge’s. Even though I have a map, I do arrive a few minutes late because I take a wrong turn.

“You are one hour late!” Inge greets me.

“What? It was supposed to be 11:30? Matthias told me 12:30! He must have gotten it wrong. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not so easy, when I cook dinner for you, to keep it warm for so long,” she says.

I feel terrible, disconcerted, and sorry sorry sorry. Tante Inge is very gracious and serves me a delicious meal (“not hot enough, it’s better when it’s hot,” she points out) and share memories and stories and news.

inge

The menu is superb, chicken cordon bleu, broccoli with cheese, salad, potatoes, and for dessert cookies and coffee.

Tante Inge, like Tante Gretel, has a clock on the bureau behind her. When she turns to glance at the time, I see it is already 2:30. How have two hours flown so quickly? I wonder.

“You must meet the journalist at 3?” she asks. “Where must you meet her?”

When I explain it is in the central marketplace, Tante Inge says it will take me two minutes by bicycle, and sees me out the door on time. Matthias meets me at the marketplace, and introduces me to the journalist. After the interview, he and I return to the house. We are sitting on the back deck discussing the day, and I tell him the sad news that there was a confusion about the time for lunch with Tante Inge.

“No, that was right, Tante Inge said 12:30. I’m sure of it,” Matthias says.

“Maybe it is a language problem. You say in German half until 1, that means 12:30. Maybe she said 11:30, and you said to me in English 12:30 by mistake.”

“No, I know this. She said halb eins, 12:30. And right now, it is 5:30, halb sechs.”

“No, right now it is 4:30, halb funf.”

“No, it is 5:30, halb sechs.”

Then it dawns on me. I thought it was only an eight hour time difference between Seattle and Freinsheim — but it is nine hours. Ever since I have arrived, I have been one hour behind!! I have been so serene about it all, and here my glassy lake was full of choppy waters. Everyone has been so good-natured and kind, welcoming me regardless of my rudeness. Once again, I stand in awe of the gracious generosity of the Palatine people.

A picture’s worth …

Jet-lagged, but arrival back in Freinsheim has brought a barrage of sights to share.

Freinsheim's "Eisentor," the old main gate

Freinsheim’s “Eisentor,” the old main gate

red grapes

Time for the grape harvest

weingut oberholz

Weingut Oberholz

Freinsheim town center

Freinsheim town center and Rathaus

 

Matthias and I have reviewed the calendar during my stay. The story of the Harm brothers descendants continues.

Freinsheim, revisited

Vineyard in the wine-growing region of the PalatinateThe last time I visited Freinsheim was the fall of 2010 during the annual “Wine Hike” / Weinwanderung. (Ostensibly, I was there to research my novel, but hey, a girl can have fun too, right?)

Soon I’ll be headed back there, about the same time of year, but so much in my life has changed. I’ve studied more German, for one thing. I feel as if I’m so much closer to my relatives, for another. But most of all, I’ve now made the leap from aspiring writer to published author. The book I went there to research — relying on Freinsheimer hospitality for a whole month! — has become a reality.

And they’re setting up a book talk for me, while I’m there, in a renovated old hospital that is now used as a cultural venue. My presentation will be Monday, October 6 at 7:00 p.m. I’ll talk about my book (hopefully in German) and read from it, and will have help from my relatives during the Q&A. Heartfelt thanks to the Weber family for setting this up. A link to the announcement of the event (in German) is here.

Video

Flashback: the February 15 Book Launch

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMy nephew Nicholas Gebben has made a wonderful Book Launch Highlights video from my novel release party back in February. (Click on the book launch highlights link to view it in Youtube.) Thanks Nick!

In addition, below are more photos of wonderful friends and family on that day. I smile just to see you all smiling.

Thanks to every one for make the launch of The Last of the Blacksmiths such a memorable day!!!
book launch 3

book launch 5

book launch 9

book launch 11

book launch 12

book launch 13

book launch 14

book launch 15

book launch 18

book launch 19

Cleveland and the automobile

jubilee 1902I have a copy of the compendious Jubilee Edition of the Cleveland Wächter und Anzeiger 1902 — a 50th anniversary edition of items published in the Cleveland German newspaper of that name. Since the Jubilee edition was written in German, it languished in relative obscurity for almost 100 years, until an English translation appeared in the year 2000, a publication of Cleveland’s Western Reserve Historical Society. I am forever indebted to WRHS for this translation. I turned to it countless times during my research for The Last of the Blacksmiths.

Chock full of information about German immigrants to Cleveland (until the year 1902), the compilation of German newspaper items includes a brief write-up on the then-fledgling automobile industry.

The first American vehicle was manufactured in Cleveland” the heading on p. 98 proclaims. (In reality, this turns out to be incorrect. According to an interpretive display at the Western Reserve Historical Society Crawford Auto Aviation Collection, the Duryea, “built by brothers Charles F. and J. Frank. Duryea, is often credited as being the first American automobile making its public appearance in 1893 in Springfield, Massachusetts.”)

car winton touring circa 1904 smAnyhow, the Jubilee goes on, “Alexander Winton, the pioneer of the industry in America, was the first manufacturer of this sort of machine.” A Scottish immigrant who originally made bicycles, Winton sold 100 of these one-cylinder gas-powered vehicles in 1898.

[Pictured left: a Winton Buggy circa 1899. This and all photos below were taken during my visit to the Crawford Auto Aviation Collection at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio.]

car white motor 1902 sm“The steam motor is manufactured by the White Sewing Machine Company, which has given up the manufacture of bicycles and produced an automobile powered by a combination of gasoline and steam. The machine has won all competitions it has entered.” –Jubilee, p.98

[Pictured left: a 1902 White Motor Car]

The White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland was a successful business founded by Thomas White. However, White’s sons had their eyes on the young automobile industry. They convinced their father to allow them to begin producing autos. … Relying on the innovative “semi-flash boiler” developed by Rollin White, the company became successful with steam-powered vehicles. White steamers were the best on the market in the days when it was still not standard for autos to be powered by internal combustion engines. White steamers raced and set speed records. When Theodore Roosevelt took the wheel of a White steamer, he became the first U.S. president to drive an automobile. — Interpretive display at Western Reserve Historical Society Crawford Auto Aviation Collection, Cleveland Ohio

car baker electric 1904 sm“The electric automobile manufactured by the Baker Motor Vehicle Company, enjoys a positive reputation. This sort of vehicle is not suited for long trips, but rather for use in the city or in the suburbs.”
–excerpt of an interpretive display at Crawford Auto Aviation Collection
[Pictured right: a 1904 Baker Electric]

car rauch 1916


Another electric auto maker in Cleveland was the Rauch & Lang electric. Why wouldn’t the German newspaper be touting a German automaker? Because the first Rauch & Lang vehicle would not come out until 1905.

[Pictured left: a 1916 Rauch & Lang.]


Just a few years beyond 1902, automobiles would quickly blossom from their horse-drawn buggy origins to sleek, luxurious rides. Below are more examples from the tremendous exhibit at the Crawford Auto Aviation Collection in Cleveland.

car white model D 1904 sm

The White Motor Company Model D from 1904

car baker electric 1913 sm

This Baker electric model is from 1913, a time when gasoline-powered vehicles were finally beginning to dominate the automobile market.

car studebaker garford 1907

A 1907 Studebaker-Garford, built in Elyria, Ohio, most popular with women drivers. (The Studebaker Company was located in South Bend, Indiana, but contracted out the production of automobiles in this era.)

car owen magnetic 1916

A 1916 Owen Magnetic. Baker attempted to combine the smooth electric ride and power of gasoline in this car. Just a year before, Baker Electric had merged companies with Rauch & Lang and the R.M. Owen company as well.

How about that Cyndi

The first time I attended a genealogy class taught by Sarah Little I heard about Cyndi’s list. On Sarah’s handout, my teacher noted the site is the most comprehensive reference on the web for genealogy, “the best of them all. A phenomenal encyclopedic site.”

Amazingly, Cyndi has now kept Cyndislist.com continuously updated for 18 years. It has a categorized index to over 327,000 online genealogy resources. I’ve used Cyndislist.com to find immigrant ship passenger lists, links to German genealogy sites, Palatine genealogy sites, and genealogy resources by state. I’ve found links to listserves on ships and on blacksmithing, to ship photos and more. Sarah’s right, the site is phenomenal. Basically, it’s a free place to go learn what’s out there, like a card catalog used to work as you entered a library.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting Cyndi herself at the Washington State Genealogy Conference in Arlington. Cyndi Ingle, the person behind that marvelous List, is as helpful, personable, and knowledgeable as her web site.

Wash. St. Genealogy Conference attendees visit Cyndi's table during session breaksWant to meet Cyndi, too? Her speaking calendar, including upcoming visits to Arkansas, San Diego, and Port Angeles, is here.

And if you’re up for a cruise, she’ll be part of the 10th Annual Heritage Books Genealogy Conference and Cruise this November 29-December 6.

Say now, doesn’t that sound like fun?! Needless to say, I left the genealogy conference with a touch of Cyndi envy. And gratitude — Cyndi posted a link to this author blog, and to my The Last of the Blacksmiths book page in her “Browse New Links” for August 16. How cool is that! Thanks, Cyndi.